Ben Bernanke as Secretary of the Treasury: Could He Replace Tim Geithner?


Today, I take up PolicyMic's series on possible replacements for outgoing Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner by considering one of the biggest economic powerhouses in this country: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Bernanke, though one of the most important people in the U.S. economy, tends to keep a fairly low public profile (despite being Time's 2009 Person of the Year), so let's start with a bit of background.

Ben Bernanke holds a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and had a long career in academia, eventually becoming a tenured professor at Princeton. In 2005, he was made Chairman of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, and in 2006, was appointed to a first four-year term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. While Chairman, Bernanke has served throughout some of the more troubling events for any economic regulator: the financial crisis that began in 2007. Bernanke responded well to the crisis, despite a few controversies over some bank and bailout decisions, and was praised for his performance. When President Obama nominated Bernanke for a second term as Chairman, the Senate voted 70-30 to confirm.

So, onto the two important questions: would he be the right man for the job, and if so, could he get approved? As to the first question (his skills and credentials), I think he certainly has the right kind of technocratic policy background to manage Treasury in a manner that he sees fit. He may not have the political, Treasury-department experience that Geithner had before his elevation, but I doubt that, as Fed Chairman, he is clueless regarding the political game.

As to his approval: I don't foresee any major problems there. Bernanke, a Republican who has been selected by and served under presidents of both parties, is a no divisively partisan pick. His economic views are also in the more centrist vein. Bernanke, a Republican, favors reducing the budget deficit, though not through steep austerity measures favored by many of his party. However, Democrats may be slightly off-put by his previous testimony alluding to a view that Congress should perhaps cut Social Security and Medicare, saying each program is "only mandatory until Congress says it's not mandatory." But despite base differences between Bernanke's views and those of his would-be boss, President Obama, Bernanke would certainly be expected to echo the President's views.

Overall, Bernanke could certainly be strong Secretary of the Treasury. With the Fed's independent authority, Bernanke is a distinct outsider in terms of day-to-day partisan politics, one who has repeatedly refused to use his position to advocate for political decisions, like tax rates, that don't affect the Fed's operations. He is respected in the financial community, and looking at his Chairman-appointment votes, he is broadly supported in the Senate as well. If President Obama were to choose Chairman Bernanke to replace Secretary Geithner, it wouldn't be an earth-shattering choice.

With that, I leave it to you, PolicyMic readers. How do you think the Senate confirmation process would go? Would Bernanke become a parrot of the Democratic line, or use his nominally independent background to push a less partisan platform? Could he actually get the economy moving a little faster?